UFO Conjecture(s)

Friday, July 03, 2015

The 1979 Robert Taylor UFO event

As some of you know, the Robert Taylor UFO episode of 1979 is a favorite of mine, for psychological reasons and as an impeccable UFO tale.

Jenny Randles provided the following excerpt of the event in her paper about UFOs and how to investigate them:

UFO STUDY: A Handbook for Enthusiasts
SECOND EDITION (2009: version 2.161).
by Jenny Randles, Updated by Robert Moore

A High Strangeness Case – Livingston, Scotland, 9th November 1979.

"… I will cite the investigation into a now well-known high strangeness case involving an apparent close observation of a “UFO” and associated physical traces. This event took place on Friday, 9 November 1979 at 10 a.m. in a wooded area just outside Livingston, West Lothian, in Scotland.

The case received media publicity on the Sunday and UFOIN arranged for investigators Martin Keatman and Andy Collins to go to the site as soon as possible (which was the Tuesday).

They spent three days in the area following up all the leads available, and a remarkable story emerged (3).

The witness, Robert Taylor (then sixty-one-year-old) at this time worked for the forestry department of the local development corporation. One of his tasks was to patrol an area of woodland not far from the M8 Glasgow to Edinburgh motorway.

He had just finished his coffee break and driven his van to the edge of the particular spot he was to check for stray animals. He continued on foot, with his dog (a Red Setter called “Lara”) running loose nearby sniffing happily at the various local smells.

Bob turned into a clearing and suddenly, unbelievably, he was standing just feet away from a dome-shaped (or possibly spherical) object that was just sitting quietly on the ground. It was about twenty feet wide and a dull grey metallic colour, with a rim near to the base from which sprang several vertical antennae or propellers. There was neither sound nor sign of life.

Mesmerized, he stood there for perhaps a minute, just gazing at this fantastic sight. Then, incredibly, portions began to fade in and out and he could momentarily see the background through the object. Before he knew where he was two grey spheroids behaving like robots, had come out of the object and rolled or bounced towards him. They were about a foot in diameter and had several spikes sticking out so that they looked not unlike landmines from a past war. As these spikes embedded in the wet earth a sucking sound was heard

In seconds the two objects had surrounded him. Three things then happened at once. He felt a tugging on his legs; he half smelt, half tasted, a somewhat foul gaseous emission; and he collapsed unconscious face forward onto the ground. As he did so he thought he heard a swishing sound. He came round in what seems to have been only a few minutes, as no substantial time loss occurred. His dog was by his side, excited and nervous, but the dome and spheroids had gone. Taylor believed that the dog frightened them off. He tried to stand but his legs were like jelly. He also had a severe thirst and a pounding headache.

These are all typical post-anaesthetic symptoms, as Rosalind Warrington points out. He finally dragged himself towards the van, without noticing as he left the ground where the object had been.

At the van he tried to radio his base for help, but hard as he struggled he could not speak. He then tried to drive home but was so to have a bath, as he was covered in mud from his fall. As he did so he noticed that his trousers were ripped at either hip. His employer was contacted and simply advised that Bob had been attacked.

Things now began to move faster. His employer contacted the police and a doctor also came around. The doctor examined him and suggested a precautionary X-ray at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He spent most of the afternoon there, but left when he was called for `tests' and realized that the doctor had suspected he was hallucinating due to a head injury (which he did not have).

Meanwhile, the police had visited the site and sketched all the clearly visible traces that they found. They had also fenced off the area in an attempt to keep out sightseers - although this was not very effective. In addition they took away Bob's trousers for forensic analysis. They were clearly treating the matter with great seriousness. Indeed seven police officers (including a CID man) were on the site within minutes of the call.

Little else happened between Friday evening and the following Tuesday. The witness went away on a prearranged trip and so avoided the media publicity which he himself did not attract.

Steuart Campbell - at the time a BUFORA investigator - visited the site over the weekend and commenced his detailed investigation of this case, subsequently published in 1982; followed in 1986 by his theory that the Livingston event was instigated by a mirage of Venus and two other astronomical bodies.

Unfortunately, heavy snow had fallen on the Monday and the traces were covered by a six-inch layer. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it preserved them perfectly - whereas three or four days of inconsiderate local sightseers would have totally obliterated them. After getting the complete detailed story from the witness and all the other parties involved, the investigators set about the traces.

With the help of a now fully recovered Bob and some of his colleagues from the forestry department they meticulously moved the snow piece by piece and uncovered the still prominent traces. They first assured themselves that they were the real thing and not the effects of the snow. They had been able to photocopy all the drawings made within hours of the landing from the police notebooks and had also asked all those who had seen them on the Friday to draw them from memory before the snow was removed. All of these drawings matched, more or less perfectly, the markings that now lay before them.

Of course their first step was to photograph them from various angles, allowing for the interplay of light. As with a UFO photograph there is rarely more than one chance before the marks vanish forever and so it must be done correctly. An SLR type camera must be borrowed if all you have is an instamatic or a compact, since this would not allow good results if the lighting conditions were poor. It is also an interesting idea, especially if traces are very recent, to take some infra-red shots (and/or readings) at night. This records the difference in temperature and may show up any major anomalies at the landing site.

On recovery after his Close Encounter Robert Taylor found … strange step-like tracks in the thick grass at the point where the UFO allegedly landed.

Martin and Andy next commenced accurate measurements and plotting onto maps.

Things such as the depth of the impressions could not be overlooked. In this case there were three separate locations to consider, which somewhat complicated the task. Firstly, where the object had apparently been, there was a circular area with some strange step-ladder tracks inside. These seemed to bear no relationship to the description of the object seen. Secondly, where Bob Taylor had fallen, there were what looked like `drag marks' as if he had been pulled forward with his feet moving along the earth and gouging it out. These were in two parallel bursts which, if that is what they were, indicate that he was pulled along about one third of the way towards the object. Finally, between these two, were about twenty or thirty holes which were certainly in accordance with the spikes from the spheroids indenting the ground on their way to (and presumably from) the witness.

Unfortunately the earth was still damp with melting snow and attempts to make plaster casts failed. Indeed, one mould was left overnight and, as if to emphasize yet another problem ufologists face, when the investigators returned the next day some joker had placed a tin can right in the middle of the still unmet plaster.

Luckily, however, it did prove possible to dig up and preserve intact one of the holes.

Aside from all this various soil samples from the site and nearby controls were taken. These were sent to Leeds University where UFOIN then had assistance in sample analysis work.

The investigators' job did not stop here. Living with the witness they were able to observe his post-reactions. Whilst the strong physiological effects disappeared within hours, there remained a scratch mark on one hip (precisely where the tear in the trousers had been), which was still visible on photographs taken a few days later. He was also somewhat off his food, as incidentally was the dog (the animal's only notable reaction). This persisted for about six days after the encounter.

The final piece of this particular puzzle was the trousers. With the kind assistance of the Edinburgh police the two ufologists were allowed into the forensic laboratories to see the trousers and talk with the man who had conducted the tests.

It seems that the trousers were police-issue and therefore unusually thick. It would have required a considerable force, from something like a pair of pincers, to cause the upwards gash on either side. The tears were consistent with what one would expect if the unconscious man had been dragged head first towards the UFO. As a final teaser it was discovered that on the front of the trousers was a patch of white powder. Analysis proved this to be maize starch - although Bob Taylor had no idea where this could possibly have come from.

Sadly, Robert Taylor died in March 2007 – maintaining the validity of this experience throughout the remainder of his life (6). Steuart Campbell’s explanation aside, the “Livingston incident” is still generally considered unexplained, and represents one of the UK’s most significant and best investigated “Close Encounter” events.

Close Encounter At Livingstone, Peterborough, U.K, BUFORA Ltd.
5. Livingston, a New Hypothesis”, Campbell, S. (1986), Journal of Transient Aerial Phenomena Vol 4, No 3 September
1986: pp 80-87.
6. Obituary, The Scotsman newspaper, 28th March, 2007."

NB: I suggest that readers/visitors here obtain the full paper. It's instructional for UFO researchers or wannabes.



  • Glad to see you bring up this case, Rich. A very important, intriguing one and a famous one, well it is to those of us not obsessed with Roswell. I do consider it unexplained, but don't subscribe to the ET notion neither. Just have to admit to being stymied by it.

    By Blogger Lawrence, at Friday, July 03, 2015  

  • I agree Lawrence.

    The "event" seems hallucinatory or "paranormal" rather that an ET intrusion.

    It's the torn pants and other effects, as Randles delineates, that takes it (a bit) away from an hysterical or hallucinatory bout on the part of Mr. Taylor.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Friday, July 03, 2015  

  • Hello,

    Only to signal, but recently Marc Lüttingen edited an "ebook" about the case, for those interessed.



    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Friday, July 03, 2015  

  • Were there any neurological findings? Sounds a bit like a seizure. (Though I am not offering that as a solution; it would have been a path of inquiry.)

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Friday, July 03, 2015  

  • Terry...

    The whole event sounded like a petite mal attack to me, but some of the Randles supplied material puts a strain on that as a solution, but since he had a dog, if he went into a seizure, the dog may have grabbed at his pants in the frenzy.

    The thing sounds neurological, but then...


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Friday, July 03, 2015  

  • The fact that a similar "spacecraft" had recently appeared in an episode of Dr Who (and the story features two Daleks even) is all this skeptic requires to dissolve the otherworldly charm of this otherwise fairly typical "UFO" story of a certain dubious "too good to be true" sort. Pascagoula, Falcon Lake, Trans en Provence and Walton are easy comparisons. That doesn't mean that Robert Taylor didn't experience something real or that his story is uninteresting, it means that the only witness was far removed from revealing, was unable or indisposed to relating the truth of his actual experience.

    A mini-stroke, poison berries, magic mushrooms or he made it all up to cover some misadventure or it was all to satisfy a wish-fulfilling need for attention, I think it’s pretty obvious. I wonder what Taylor thought about the “UFO” subject prior to his “experience.”

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Friday, July 03, 2015  

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